Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Grieving is an interesting thing, especially at the holidays. I generally love Christmas and love the joy that it brings and the message of joy that God gave to all people through the birth of His Son, Jesus. And that is still very true for me this year.

But, there's also the sadness I feel when I think of celebrating this Christmas without my dad here on earth with us. And there's the new empathy and compassion I feel for others around me who have experienced loss this year, or in recent years. Of course, I think of my own family:  my mom, my sister, my brother-in-law, my son, my nieces, my aunts and uncles, who are also grieving in their own ways. Others also come to mind:  the friend and her young son who lost their husband/daddy to cancer this past summer; the friends who also lost older parents this year; friends who are dealing with illness (their own or their parent's); friends who have gone through divorces this year. I find myself wanting to extend love and comfort to these loved ones, as well as seeking comfort for myself.

The Christmas carol, "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" has been coming to mind a lot this year. Or maybe when I hear it now, the words from the refrain ring truer and louder in my ears:
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy!
It was far from a perfect world that Jesus came into as a baby, and it was not a comfortable situation in the Bethlehem stable for his parents. But the reason He came, "to save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray" and the fact that Jesus is our Emmanuel, "God with us," brings me great comfort and joy, even in my grief.

The last stanza of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" encourages us to sing praises and to extend love and brotherhood, while remembering the message of redeeming grace:

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood,
Each other now embrace.
This holy tide of Christmas
Doth bring redeeming grace.

My prayer for my family, my friends and for myself, is that we would press closer to Jesus in our times of sadness and in our times of joy, and in doing so, would know a deeper sense of His presence and comfort.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dessert-of-the-Month: November and December

I've made it to the end of the year with my ambitious gift to my brother-in-law last Christmas! I will admit that the past couple of months, my motivation has not been what it was back at the first of the year, but I was committed to 12 months and I wanted to finish strong! (I did get a "pass" in October, since we had so many distractions.)

For most of the months, I had gotten requests from Russell, so I tried to honor those. For November, he asked for Pecan Pie, but since I knew that his favorite mother-in-law would make him one for Thanksgiving, I decided to go with a slight variation and try a recipe I saw on The Pioneer Woman/Tasty Kitchen blog. I think these Pecan Pie Muffins were a big hit (even though they kind of stuck to the pan).

He's excited . . . really! :-)

For December, I asked Russell what he wanted and he named some suggestions and then I came up with an idea of my own (nice of me, huh?). Seriously, I thought of Seven Layer Bars because they have several ingredients that Russell loves:  chocolate, coconut, caramel (the sweetened condensed milk carmelizes). And I haven't heard any complaints from the recipient on these either!

Cute little helper/model!

If you ever need the gift that keeps on giving and have someone who deserves such a thoughtful gift, you can copy me copying someone else!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Tree Stories

Last week I had high hopes (or plans) to put up our Christmas tree on Saturday. I knew it was a little iffy, with Daniel having his audition for Mid-state Jazz Band and homework. The thought of getting it all out and mostly doing all of the decorating myself started stressing me out. Then I went with my mom and sister to a grief seminar about dealing with the holidays. One of the take-aways I got was that when grieving the loss of a loved one, you can change the way you do things, for one year, or forever. Basically, I took that as a great opportunity to not put up our big Christmas tree this year.

Believe me, I wavered and spent a few days being wishy-washy about it. Daniel told me that he was fine with whatever I wanted to do (although he thought I'd "regret it later" and also had to point out that next year will be his "last Christmas before he graduates"), so I decided that I'd use a small table-top tree that my mom wasn't using and have a scaled-down Christmas this year.

This week, I was telling some friends about my decision and one of them started telling us about an unfortunate incident involving their Christmas tree and some mice who decided to make a nest in the tree while it was in storage. Needless to say, this family was planning to get a new tree this year, although they would rather wait until the after-Christmas deals. I had a sudden "brilliant idea" and offered for my friends to borrow our tree!

During the whole Christmas tree conversation that I had with my friends, we started remembering other Christmas trees that had made "history" for us. One that popped into my head was the year when I was growing up and we convinced my mom to let us get a real tree. My parents always stood their ground together every year when we'd ask to replace our aging artificial tree with a real tree, so this particular year, when my dad went out of town for a conference or something a couple of weeks before Christmas, my sister and I were able to "wear down" our mom's resolve and off to the tree lot we went. We brought some family friends and it turned out to be one of the most fun afternoons ever! We laughed and joked as we searched for the "perfect" tree and once we found it and got it home, we decorated it and got it all ready to surprise my dad when he got home from his trip. I don't really remember his reaction, but I do remember that we continued getting real Christmas trees for several years after that!

My other favorite Christmas tree memory happened the year that Daniel was born. We thought it would be fun to go to a Christmas tree farm to buy a tree, so after church one Sunday, Daniel stayed with my sister, and we went down to Thompson's Station to find a tree. Well, I'm somewhat picky about my trees and I didn't particularly like the type of trees they grew there, so we left without a tree and drove to find a regular tree lot where we could find more of a variety. We ended up at Hillsboro High School in Green Hills and when we walked in, we told a salesperson what our price range was and he led us to one solitary row of trees to look at. We browsed the row and didn't see anything we wanted, so we turned to walk toward the exit. A man who looked like Santa Claus stopped us and asked us where we were going without a tree. We explained that we hadn't found anything in our price range, so he brought us to another section and indicated that we could find whatever tree we wanted in that area and we could have it for the amount we could spend.

We looked a little longer at the larger selection and found what we felt was the "perfect" tree. We lugged it over to the place where they wrapped them and cut off the bottom of the trunk and started the check-out process. The original sales guy (who happened to be the owner of the business) came up and looked at the tree we had picked out and said, "Wait! You can't have that tree! It's a ???-dollar tree." (I can't remember the amount now.) He said that the tree we wanted had been put in the wrong place and it was a mistake. We were disappointed, but we didn't want to pay more than we had originally told him, so we turned and started to walk away again. He had a quick change of heart and called us back and told us we could have the tree for the price we wanted to pay.

We took that tree home to our apartment and it took up a good third of the living room (and I think we had to cut some more off to get it inside). We got it decorated with our growing collection of ornaments and enjoyed having such a beautiful tree for Daniel's first Christmas (he was almost six months old).

Back to this year, I'm planning to still decorate the house with our Nativity sets and am using our Christmas dishes as usual. As another "scaling back" friend said, I'm having a merry "little" Christmas this year! I'm sure that I'll get back to putting up my big tree next year and will hopefully have more "favorite" tree memories in the years to come. It makes me really happy that my tree will get some use this year and love how God worked out all of those little details!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

You can tell Christmas is coming . . .

Happy December! Turning the page on the calendar to the month of December is a sure sign that Christmas is coming soon. So are all the sales ads and craziness that starts way before Black Friday. And the lights that start popping up in neighborhoods as we drive around town.

At our house, these are some ways you can tell that Christmas is coming:

 We put up our Christmas tree. 
(This was taken last year and we hope to get the tree & house decorated this coming weekend.)

They light the tree in Rockefeller Center in New York City (and I clap every year when the lights go on).

Also, as is our long-time Christmas tradition, we start the Advent Jesse Tree devotions. If you'd like to read some posts from the year that I blogged for each day of the devotional, from December 1 until Christmas Day, click here. You'll be able to click through to all of them (either all in one sitting or you can spread it out).

So here's some audience participation:  What are some sure signs for you that Christmas is coming soon?